**Any names of real life people have been replaced by pseudonyms to maintain confidentiality**
Equality woven into parenting
A few weeks ago, or what feels like another lifetime ago now, Fynn, my eldest lad went to school in normal clothes. This was in celebration of Pride Month, and the school were raising awareness by encouraging the kids to go in their own clothes. I tried to find something I had for him with a rainbow on it, but alas, a recent clear-out rendered me unprepared in this matter.
Things have changed so much since I was at school in the 80s, thank goodness. We can talk to our children to encourage openness, and celebration of who we are, who our friends are and who our community is. I have 3 boys, and I am raising them all to be feminists. Equality and equity are subjects that get me very worked up. I am teaching them that, we are all born equal, and you respect others as your equals, honouring diversity throughout all areas; race, sexuality, gender and identity etc. I’m raising them in a way that means they won’t shy away from emotions, and that real boys really do cry.
I think inequality can affect many to some degree or another. We experience it ourselves or we know others who have experienced it. As a parent, I am always considering how I can raise my children in a way that does not give life to a way of thinking that could generate inequality. Raising 3 boys has made me think about what I can do as a mother to ensure that my lads don’t fall into a trap of being what they think others think they should be. I believe having a healthy awareness of things like toxic masculinity, knowing how to recognise it, and understanding it’s roots are so important. This way, boys and men don’t fall victim to it’s socially detrimental fallacy, and perpetuate it for future generations. I think when that way of thinking isn’t given the space to survive and grow, there is more space for better, more meaningful things, and a more open way of thinking. I want emotions to be validated, and I want there to be space to talk. If I can raise my boys to understand that their truth, and others truth’s are what really matters, I will be one deeply proud momma.
Young, autistic and full of curiosity (and the best lines!)
“I believe there is no wrong or right way of doing this, so long as we are doing this, with love, respect and equality at the centre of the message”
My son is 6, he’s autistic, and he struggles to grasp concepts that are not part of his day to day reality. Lately, I have been thinking about how I would chat with him about Pride. I thought it best to start small, because as I introduce him to what being LGBTQ+ can mean, I can grow on this, and then later explain more about what it might mean to be trans or non binary for instance.
I have already had some chats with Fynn that have gone really well. For me it is about repetition, so he gains a memory and confidence in what I am saying. Fortunately we have close family members and friends who are LGBTQ+. I mentioned to Fynn that a really close family friend was going to see his boyfriend. He told one of my friends the following day that our friend was ‘seeing a little boy’. After myself and my friend had finished laughing, I explained of course.
This got me thinking about the language I use. Being autistic can mean you can take things quite literally, so the word ‘boyfriend’ to Fynn could mean ‘boy’ and ‘friend’. In his world, this means someone of his age, who is his friend. As anyone with children will tell you, that isn’t exclusive to autism. Many children can interpret things in a very direct way. Of course I explained myself to him in more detail, and he seemed content. More information about child language acquisition can be found here. Additionally, you can find more out about language delay in autism here.
Talking about Pride gave me the chance to talk to my son about love, and being in love. About how mummy and daddy love each other, and that we are a boy and girl, and that some people who love each other are girls and girls, and some are boys and boys. Yes I know, it’s a deeply simplistic, polarising way of doing it. Fynn has experienced language delay and I try to find adaptive, phased ways of helping him develop. In time I can tell him more about LGBTQ+ and I want to encourage him to ask questions, so he grows up understanding there is no line of divide. I believe there is no wrong or right way of doing this, so long as we are doing this, with love, respect and equality at the centre of the message.
In time I can tell him about the link between the spectrum of gender and the spectrum of neurodivergency.
More can be read about this here; spectrum news. However in summary, more and more research is being carried out on higher numbers (than general population statistics would assume) of autistic people not identifying with their assigned sex at birth or being LGBTQ+, and higher numbers (than general population statistics would assume) of LGBTQ+ people being neurodivergent.
“I love hearing about times when people have found hope, positivity, like minded people, and a way forward”
When I hear about people who have struggled
to gain acceptance because of who they are, it stirs something deep within. The world is becoming a better place, but for us to continue growing so this world becomes the place we know it can be, we must start young. It is imperative that secrecy, and shame are not part of our next generations mindset. This way fear and loneliness do not get fertilised and cultured into younger generations. So people can celebrate who they are in their truth and be their beautiful authentic selves.
There is a charity I recently discovered (thanks to a good friend), called AKT, they are nationwide but their Newcastle branch can be found here. They assist young LGBTQ+ people who have encountered abuse and rejection. People that all too often find themselves homeless or having accommodation difficulties. They have some incredible stories illustrating the ways in which they have helped young people overcome very challenging and lonely times in their lives. A homelessness report compiled by AKT in April this year details some very clear and alarming figures into homelessness in the LGBTQ+ community. AKT provide practical support when essential things like money are an obstacle to being able to move on and set the next set of goals. They have helped people turn their lives around when their situations have become quite desperate and alone, in seemingly insurmountable situations. I love hearing about times when people have found hope, positivity, likeminded people, and a way forward. At the age of 40 and on a very personal note, I think the beauty of finding your people is second to none.
“While they spoke, I listened and imagined the emotions that being made homeless may evoke, I thought of fear, and of loss, and then I myself felt lost. But through talking to Edward I realised their story wasn’t about those things. It was about thriving in a less-than-optimal situation, because of a fusion of personal stoicism coupled with the support of AKT.”
I spoke with Edward, who identifies as bisexual and agender, although those labels are not fixed. 1 year and 3 months ago Edward learned about AKT from a friend and accessed their services after finding themselves homeless as a result of a falling out with their family. Edward told me about accessing AKT and receiving help to find suitable accommodation, access to the correct benefits and general support and advocacy. They explained that AKT’s involvement had gone ‘above and beyond’ and they would forever feel an affinity and eternal gratitude to them. Edward explained to me they don’t know what they would have done without AKT.
While Edward spoke, I listened and imagined the emotions that being made homeless may evoke. I thought of fear, and of loss, and then I myself felt lost. But through talking to them I realised their story wasn’t about those things. It was about thriving in a less-than-optimal situation, because of a fusion of personal stoicism coupled with the support of AKT.
Support from AKT involved practical and emotional support, but it also included a lot more than this. I learned that AKT organise and host lots of community events, like online workshops, theatre events, and fitness programmes. Edward explained to me that they had recently accessed a personal trainer through AKT and were taking part in different fitness programmes including cardio focus, yoga, exercise bikes and core work. They advised me that it was informal and had made a huge difference to them. They also received support if they just needed to talk about things, and facilitated the social element of support. This was an essential part to the process of rebuilding after being made homeless. Even more poignantly; vital given the social isolation experienced due to Covid.
AKT even look at grants to support marginalised communities. After they got back on their feet, Edward’s case went from active to closed, but things didn’t simply stop there. Edward continues to be in touch with AKT and access community resources available to them. Edward went on to tell me that ethnic minorities within the LGBTQ+ community tend to be particularly vulnerable to prejudice and marginalised beliefs. In recognition of this, AKT run focus groups around this level of need, where people can come and share stories either through zoom or face-to-face get togethers. AKT also runs theatre courses and look at grants to assist marginalised communities.
Life after rebuilding
“We shared our 5 year plans, it gave me goose bumps to listen to someone’s passions, and dive into the future with no feeling of being held back. For those few moments we had wings”.
Edward talked about the things they have done since receiving assistance from AKT. They are particularly interested and skilled in the art of drag. Edward has done presentations through zoom for the Women’s Institute (WI). The feedback they received brought them to tears. They had been an inspiration to the women who had attended, one is even dedicating part of her book to Edward, and has interviewed them since. Knowing what I know from my short time speaking with Edward it will be an inspirational read. Edward advised me they are looking to move to China to teach the English language and they’re currently teaching themselves Mandarin. We shared our 5 year plans, it gave me goose bumps to listen to someone’s passions, and dive into the future with no feeling of being held back. For those few moments we had wings.
Not letting others pull you under
‘The wisdom of Karamo shone through as he told his client about not living in the shadows that others cast, because if we fear who we are and live to please others, their shame grows in us’.
I was watching Queer Eye under the duvet with a wine and snacks the other night (it truly is my happy place). I usually cry, they do amazing things. This night was no different, as I heard Karamo Brown (he is without doubt one of my heros); talk to their latest client. This particular gent wasn’t openly gay in his home country, he feared bullying and marginalisation. The wisdom of Karamo shone through as he told his client about not living in the shadows that others cast, because if we fear who we are and live to please others, their shame grows in us. It can live in us because we gave it somewhere to grow. Someone else’s shame, that has nothing to do with us, it is about THEM, lives in us, because we allowed it somewhere to take a hold. Living our truth is about not living in those shadows that others cast for us. This really spoke to me, and tears meandered down my face.
I should add here; I am 40 years old, and I believe that I am autistic. I have just started the assessment process, which I will detail in another blog post. The reason I am telling you this? Anything I have heard from others I have usually taken as gospel, in my head I think ‘they wouldn’t have any other reason to say that unless it was the truth’. I take things quite literally and at face value, this has caused me no end of problems and pain in the past. It has taken me years to realise that others cruelty speaks far more about them than it does me.
I sat there, thinking about all the times I have allowed others perceptions of me to shape who I am, or feel I should be. I thought Karamo’s words were possibly the best universal advice I had ever heard. I do not know what it is like to be marginalised in this way but I do know what it is like to want to create a place where we are all truly accepted and celebrated for who we are.
Edward, thank you for talking to me, I left our chat with a feeling that your infectious strength will help fuel another step in this beautiful journey. Bex, thank you for an eye opening chat with me about the reality of homelessness, LGBTQ+ and marginalised groups. I think the homelessness report is a massive step in building further blocks of awareness which will in time form the solution.
I do have a fire that lives in me, and if I feed it, it will not allow others’ judgements to manipulate the way I live my life. It will burn brighter and more truthful than any judgement or negative words ever could. We are, at the end of the day meant to live our truths in the best way for no-one but ourselves.
What words of inspiration have you heard lately that really spoke to you? I would love to hear them below.
Thanks to Edward and Bex at AKT for their time, support and images. Thanks also goes to Sharon McCutcheon, Valeria Boltneva, Anna Shvets Pexels and Pixabay for the images.